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Shamima Begum Ruling a Dark Stain on the UK Justice System

UK Strips Likely ISIS Trafficking Survivor of Citizenship

Renu Begum, eldest sister of Shamima Begum, 15, holds her sister's photo as she is interviewed by the media at New Scotland Yard, London, England, February 22, 2015. © 2015 Laura Lean/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Although she was only 15 years old when she left the UK for Syria to join the Islamic State (ISIS), and despite finding there was “credible suspicion” that she was groomed and trafficked to Syria for sexual exploitation, yesterday the UK justice system upheld the government’s decision to strip Shamima Begum of her citizenship.

When the Special Immigration Appeals Commission rejected Begum’s appeal, it was only the latest time British authorities failed to protect Begum. This includes the fact that authorities let her leave the UK.

The Commission ruled that the UK Home Secretary’s power to strip Begum of her citizenship was not limited by her likely being a child victim of trafficking, or that it leaves her de facto stateless. The Commission also acknowledged that “reasonable people will profoundly disagree with the Secretary of State,” but dismissed their objections as “wider society and political questions.”

Its decision comes roughly a year after the UK Supreme Court denied Begum the right to return to the UK to contest her citizenship revocation, despite being unable to have a fair hearing while detained in northeast Syria.

This leaves Begum in one of two detention camps holding thousands of women and their children as ISIS suspects without charge or trial. The dire conditions often amount to inhumane treatment and have reached the level of torture.

The detainees include an estimated 50 other British women and children. Hundreds have died in these camps, in many cases for lack of medical care, which may have led to the death of Begum’s newborn son in 2019.

Prisons in northeast Syria also hold a number of British men and boys, detained without charge or trial.

Yet the UK has only repatriated 11 British nationals – 10 children and 1 woman – despite repeated requests from Kurdish-led authorities controlling these detention camps. In contrast, several countries in Europe, Central Asia, and elsewhere have repatriated many or most of their nationals who are women and children.

The UK home secretary should reverse the decision and conduct an independent investigation into how UK authorities repeatedly failed to protect Begum. The UK government should also repatriate all British nationals, many of whom are women and children, from detention camps in Syria. Failing to do so leaves a dark stain on the United Kingdom.

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